On a crumpled piece of paper are the words which reflect Doug Isaacson's 66 years in the saddle and they're as relative today as when he started showjumping, now he's the oldest rider in New Zealand to compete in a Grand Prix.

"Good riding is an affair of skill, But bad riding is an affair of courage. Good riding will last through age, sickness and decrepidity, But bad riding will last only as long as youth, health and strength supply courage."

Isaacson was just 5 when he rode at his first A&P Show in 1953 on Robin, a black gelding Shetland pony.

The pair collected a second and a third that year.


Wearing number 75, Isaacson and Robin competed in the jumping competition for ponies under 12 hands, ridden by a boy or girl under 14.

The hurdles were 2ft, 3in and Isaacson hasn't forgotten them.

"I can remember in 1953 my grandfather giving me encouragement," Isaacson said.

 The start of the showjumping dynasty - Doug Isaacson's maternal grandfather, Dan Coughlin, jumping in the Waipukurau district in 1930 on Maquita.
The start of the showjumping dynasty - Doug Isaacson's maternal grandfather, Dan Coughlin, jumping in the Waipukurau district in 1930 on Maquita.

"He would put a piece of bamboo from a fence to a beer crate and I would jump my Shetland pony on his front lawn on Adelaide Rd."

Last weekend Isaacson, now 70, and the oldest rider competing in premier events in New Zealand, competed at the top level at the Dannevirke and Tararua Districts A&P Show, riding 7-year-old Elmo. Elmo is owned by Des Snook, with Isaacson having a "percentage share," in the horse.

Isaacson took out the 1.30m competition against the elite riders on Friday, came second in the 1.20m and competed the Horse Grand Prix on Saturday afternoon, 66 years since his first ride at the show. (66th year).

"No one has ever ridden a Grand Prix at my age," Isaacson said.

"Merran Hain has a couple of years on me, but she isn't riding Grand Prix.

"Saturday's Grand Prix was a bit of a step up. It's been eight years since I'd ridden in a Grand Prix because of the lack of horse power. Elmo is just a young horse, only in his third year of showjumping, but I think quite a lot of him."

Isaacson said he's fortunate to be fit as he rides for work as well.

"But it's not easy on your body," he admitted.

And while he won't admit to hearing loss, Isaacson confessed he does have trouble hearing the start bell when in the ring.

"I look at the timing clock," he said.

Isaacson is eyeing up the 1m 45 Norwood Gold Cup at the Horse of the Year in Hastings in March, an event he won in 2008, but doesn't think he'll go any further.

"Tackling those bigger fences, well, horses can't sort everything for you. You have to do something yourself. Horses can't dig you out of a hole," he said.

The workload of working horses is huge and a few years ago Isaacson thought, "enough is enough."

But he's following an impressive equestrian dynasty, from his winning showjumper father Henry Isaacson and his grandfather on his mother's side, Dan Coughlin who jumped in 1936/37.

"I've got the cups he won," Isaacson said. And in equestrian terms Isaacson is a stayer from those early days on Robin, in 1959, to joining forces with a star
pony, Kopaki owned by Victoria Lloyd.

The pair was fourth in the Pony of the Year and then in 1960 there were three wins, the open competition for boys and girls, the bare-backed event for boys over 17 and the international pony jumping class.

"At 13 I was winning A-grade classes on Kopaki and I've been lucky to have horses in the top flight all through my career," Isaacson said. "To be honest, Robin was a little shit, but Kopaki was all class."

In 2009 he stunned the showjumping world taking out the Silver Fern Stakes at the Horse of the Year on Brother Brown, but it's Chicago Peace Isaacson credits with some of his most memorable showjumping moments.

In 1979, the pair showed a clean pair of heels to the field, including five Australians, to win the Horse of the Year.

The event went to the wire, with a jump off between Isaacson and the five Australians.

"It was a real classy event and the Australians went on to the United Kingdom where they won all the top events,'' Isaacson said.

"I'll never forget that day when Chicago Peace and I won, the crowd really went off, it was unbelievable. The trouble is, at the time, you don't quite realise what you've achieved and it's only now, that I look back and realise the significance of the win. It's hard to take it all in at the time.''

In his lifetime in the saddle Isaacson has ridden more than 300 showjumpers on the circuit, has spent years riding with the hounds on 100 horses, with the occasional spill, including the time Robin refused a hurdle while riding in the hunt by the golf course.

Robin stopped, Isaacson fell off and was left hanging and hooked up by his coat as the other horses kept jumping around him.

And the family showjumping heritage is likely to continue with five grandchildren in Levin, with five ponies.

"They're not showjumping yet, but that will come," Isaacson said.